Nothin’ Better than a Ben Gibbard Double-Header as Death Cab For Cutie and The Postal Service Rock The District – And No Distance Could Hold Me Back!

Article and Photos by Hank Hell

Editorial: Buckle up, my fellow independent Philadelphians – for last night your intrepid reporter drove 6 hours roundtrip to DC (half in rush hour traffic!) to be amongst the first to take in the once-every-decade reunion of The Postal Service, featuring support from Death Cab For Cutie and – SURPRISE – Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches doing a solo set! That last fact was something I was not made aware of until I was IN the venue waiting to buy a Luke Martin foil print, and to say I was OVERJOYED would be the understatement of the year! I happen to love Miss Mayberry’s electronic synth outfit Chvrches every bit as much as I love the P. Service, so this was a truly, truly, truly serendipitous occasion for your man Hank! I had Benny, Jenny, Jimmy AND Lauren all in one building last night – and dare I say it aloud – it’s my favorite building on the East coast to see (and hear) a show in, too! I must be doing something right!!

FYI, some things to note about this tour if you’re among the lucky to score tickets: these are to be looked at as *full album plays* and NOT sprawling deep dive setlists like 2013’s Postal Service reunion. This tour package is a sprint – not a marathon. Arrive early, buy your merch, take your seat, there is no time to waste here! Shunned here are the Dreams of Evan & Chan, you will not be unraveling Tattered Lines of String. Instead, you will be treated to all of the songs off of Death Cab For Cutie’s transcendent 2003 album ‘Transatlanticism,’ and the whole of The Postal Service’s 2003 prescient masterpiece ‘ ‘Give Up’’ and you will LIKE IT! There mayyyy be 1 or 2 surprises at the very end, but you’ll have to read on if you want to let me spoil them!

Right off the bat: Scotland’s Lauren Mayberry took the stage at a quarter after 7 all clad in trad plaid, flanked by her 3-piece ensemble of keys, drums and guitar. This was only Lauren’s 2nd solo show performance, having graced the stage of DC’S 9:30 Club the night before to kick off this round of engagements. Whoever added her to this bill should get a damn RAISE! Fans of Chvrches’ twinkling synth lines may be surprised to hear Lauren’s voice accompanied by a slightly more traditional piano tone here, but her unparalleled pipes shine through just the same as it ever was. Plus, she looks like she’s having a ton of fun ripping through these new – and quite sonically varied – solo compositions, and although full disclosure I have never found her to be the most confident front person, she stomped, shredded, and threw herself on the floor enough times during this set to let me know her heart is fully invested in these new tracks – plus she is ever-so-endearing when she admits her own fears/limitations on stage, like when she sat herself down at a piano (for the first time that I have ever seen – and I have seen Chvrches a dozen times!) and plunked out a beautiful rendition of ‘Are You Awake?’ after admitting that she might have made a mistake not paying a bit more attention to what Iain and Marty have been up to on those keyboards alongside her for the past decade. Whoops! Never too late to start though, right? 

The best bits of this set came at the end, as the band ripped through an incredibly-fun rendition of the Material Girl’s “Like a Prayer” (so on brand, and with an absolutely incendiary piano solo from Lauren’s new bandmate to kick it off) and closed out with the thrash-tastic ‘Sorry, Etc.” which featured both my favorite vocal delivery and energy of the set. Give these gals (+ guy?) a listen – they’re new and they’re still exploring their sound, but I can’t think of anything else like them off the top of my head and I’m invested to see where this goes – hell, the album isn’t even out yet, she just wanted to hit the road and test these tunes out. I respect that immensely, and my only critique of the set was that the drummer was feeling it WAY too much, right from the start. Work in a little more dynamics, my friend – there is nothing I hate more than percussion drowning out that one-of-a-kind voice. 

Click here for a short clip of Lauren Mayberry performing “Just Like A Prayer”

Next up after a faster-than-usual set break was Death Cab For Cutie, and to say that frontman and chief songwriter Benjamin Gibbard took the stage ‘shot out of a cannon’ would not do justice to the energy this man immediately brought to the District. Again, I refer back to my ‘sprint’ not a ‘marathon’ comment – it really felt like a breakneck pace. DCFC blasted through all 45 minutes and 38 seconds of Trans-An in what felt like a hot 40! I bet they set a record. I’m not complaining though, I had a 3 hour drive back to philly ahead of me, but boy that sense of urgency was certainly palpable, no more so than in the lightning-fast transition of songs – you will not have time to yell out stupid shit over a din (trust me, I tried) so please also refer back to my buckle up comment: have your beer(s) in hand; pee before they play. There are no skippers in this set, but they do come in order if you have to make a fast break at some point. 

My personal favorite, the title track, slapped the absolute hardest and was the only song I dared sing out loud for fear of pissing off my seatmate who insisted on filming a lil bit o’ everything – I owed her one since I spilled a full beer on her the MOMENT I sat down. Dear Anthem: cup holders next refurb? Please?? Some of the only banter of the set came in a bemused Ben asking the audience, “How are you enjoying the recital so far?” Told me all I needed to know about how Mister Gibbs feels about album plays, lol. 

DCFC- Transatlanticism (half song)

The all-killer-no-filler set ended as abruptly as it started and you get what you get on the LP – no, not the deluxe reissue, the original one on Barsuk (such a great label). Oh, and at the very end of the set Ben forewarned us there would only be a 15 minute set changeover, and that held true. You’re NOT gonna wanna lolligag after this first-of-two headline performances concludes. Trussssst me!

Time for the main event: Jenny Lewis! Whoops, I mean, The Postal Service (which is a 4 piece now, Jenny on house left, Ben stage center, the keyboardist from DCFC on stage right, and main man James Tamborello on a riser in the back with the world’s most peculiar stage set up of electronics, computers, vocoders and super sweet xylophone. Oh, also, Jimmy sings!) 

What can I say about the PS that you don’t already know? They stormed onto the scene in 2003 with their universally loved series of singles (Such Great Heights, We Will Become Silhouettes, and set opener much to the delight of DC: the District Sleeps Alone Tonight) then clobbered us over the head with both a fully fleshed out sub pop full length and a series of remixes and cover versions that might have put everyone and their older brother onto The Shins (before Garden State!) and Iron & Wine (before High Maintenance! That’s him, right??). I might know one thing you don’t, though: how they got the NAME (and got sued!), annnnnd what they had to do to settle that suit! I got the tea, y’all – I been here since JUMP!

Rather than ruin the show (you’re going, right?) I will just tell you that story. See, the main dude behind the Postal Service is Jimmy Tamborello, an absolutely avant-garde one-of-a-kind producer and sound manipulator who tends to favor tape loops and fun squeals and squelches in his many solo endeavors like ‘Figurine’ and ‘Dntel.’ (Anyone remember the Rilo Kiley song ‘Accidentl Death’? There you go!). So back in those very dark early 2000’s, Jimmy found himself with some tapes (DAT TAPES!) of some pretty fire beats, bro. He was like, I gotta mail this shit to my bud Benjamin and see if he wants to put some vocals on it. This was his dream. This was the Dream Of Evan and Chan. And so he did it, and Ben mailed back the tapes, and thus: The Postal Service! Wow, what a fun fact! But the saga continues… you see, the Postal Service, a government agency, was strong back then – not like it’s current gutted/stripped state – and they had some bored-ass lawyers who one day opened up myspace music or maybe limewire and they were like “HOLLLLLDDDDD ONNNNNN BUDDY!” So presumably, they sent some mail of their own – maybe a cease and desist? But lo and behold – an agreement was reached! Our gang kept the name, but they became indentured to the ACTUAL Postal Service! I am not kidding! They had to like, do commercials for the Postal Service – using their songs and everything. It was so fucking weird – I mean, everything is now, but that was so weird back then. 

Anyway, I am rambling. They ripped through the record live and then ghosted the stage like a bar turning out its lights on L&I. Thankfully they must have known that wouldn’t have been enough to satisfy their self-imposed ten year wait(s) between tours, because Jenny + Benny came back out and blessed us with the Iron & Wine (acoustic) version of ‘Such Great Heights,’ Jenny dressed in flowing white gauze like the angel she is, and then invited BOTH bands back on stage for the only true surprise of the evening, a rick-rollicking version of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy The Silence.” 

Such Great Heights (Acoustic)

Enjoy the Silence

After running double front-man duties for the night, I imagine Ben IS probably enjoying the silence right now. He’s leaving it all on the stage for us, and plowing through two such classic and beloved/well-known records back-to-back is a feat many couldn’t (or wouldn’t) ever achieve. Most people were overjoyed! 

I’ll be catching the crew again at the Mann Center in Philadelphia at the end of the month (Sept 21) sadly sans Miss Mayberry, so stayed tuned for more in-depth coverage and less off-the-dome ramblings. I don’t really have an editor over here any more, so I can pretty much just write shit like it is. Loved the show, love love LOVE the venue, and I will drive anywhere on god’s green earth to hear Jenny Lewis sing, so you know this one was a winner for Hank. Go see this tour if you can, it’s likely the world will end long before the 2033 dates (people thought that they were just being rewarded…)

About Hank Hell: You can find Hank spinning Jenny Lewis, Kayleigh Goldsworthy and Caitlin Rose on vinyl at the Brickette Lounge every month, DNTEL and Figurine at home, and occasionally writing things and making art. Book him to spin your country western/indie synth pop event, review your record or tape, or come to your show and write nice things about you (whenever possible). He owns every single thing the Postal Service has ever released on any format, and if you’d like to book him to do a Postal Service themed DJ night at your bar/barn/house sometime around the Philly play, he’ll do it! Dare him! If this is something you’d be interested in, feel free to follow him at @djhankhell 

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